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Julianne Malveaux

Unmasking White Racism

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(NNPA) In 1896, Lyrics of Lowly Life, a collection of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry, was published. Although his poem was specifically focused on African American people, in this 21st Century, it is apropos to many. He recognizes the pain many feel about their inability to be “themselves” and if we fast-forward to today, he addresses the masks they wear because they want to hide from themselves.

The poem reads: “We wear the mask that grins and lies; That hides our cheeks and shades our eyes; This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile; And mouth with myriad subtleties.

“Why should the world be over-wise; In counting all our tears and sighs? Nay, let them only see us, while; We wear the mask. We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries; To thee from tortured souls arise. We sing, but oh the clay is vile; Beneath our feet, and long the mile; But let the world dream otherwise. We wear the mask!”

Whenever I read this poem I am struck by its poignancy. It recognizes the Black folks who tap danced when they’d rather do ballet, who hid their true feelings to get ahead, who are perceived as happy while “the clay is vile.” It doesn’t take a historian to evaluate the masks that people of African descent have been forced to wear in these United States.

In the early 20th Century, you could be lynched for looking a White person in the eye. No matter what your status, you were expected to clear the sidewalk when a White person walked by. You weren’t supposed to scowl or protest, just to wear the mask.

When Senator Barack Obama ran for president of the United States, few chose to acknowledge that he stood on the shoulders of the great civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada), now an Obama ally, had the condescending temerity to describe a Harvard-educated Black man as “well-spoken.” Many of us who earned advanced degrees from our nation’s best institutions are stunned when we are described as “articulate.” Some of us choose to wear the mask and silently absorb the nonsense. Others are plain spoken enough to pay the price of stunted career advancement, or a reputation for being “edgy.”

People wear masks daily, sometimes to reveal who they are, and sometimes to hide their true identity. What does this imply, then, about the White people who think that a blackface mask is appropriate? Too many people, including the obscure and minimally talented actress Julianne Hough, decided to don blackface for a Halloween party, excusing herself by claiming she was simply going as a character in the show Orange is the New Black. When criticized, she said she was “sorry,” but she should have said she was ignorantly sorry, because her historical knowledge is most deficient.

Did she go to anybody’s school? Like Hough, those who think that blackface is funny, ignore the demeaning history of blackface caricatures. If these people are wearing a mask, it is a mask that allowed them to hide their racism until they had an excuse to let it show. Then their response is that “it is all in good fun, we meant no harm,” or “ I never meant to offend.” That’s the mask of arrogance. The mask of “I’m White, I’m going to do whatever I choose to do,” a mask that allows them to ignore common decency.

In 2011, Ohio University started a campaign that suggested that student be mindful of the Halloween costumes they chose. The “we’re a culture not a costume” has spread to several universities, but apparently it has not spread widely enough.

Two White men in Florida declared “anything for a laugh” when one, with a “Stand Your Ground” t-shirt (posing as George Zimmerman) seems to be shooting his black faced, hoodie clad White friend who is supposed to be Trayvon Martin. Why is this appropriate or amusing? The arrogance of White people suggests that they can make a joke, and suggests that all people of color are their jokes. The massacre of a young Black man, for them, is not tragedy but an occasion for mockery.

“We wear the mask that grins and lies, that hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.” For some, masks are concealing, for others revealing. Those who choose to mute their reaction to a racist world are adapting. Those who think that blackface is appropriate are attacking. It is tragic that at Halloween, a day conceived for children to have fun, has become an occasion for masks that attack, and for those who make excuses for them.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Look Who's 'Lazy' and 'Crazy'

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(NNPA) Voter suppression is alive and well, especially in the state of North Carolina, where a Republican official, Don Yelton, proved himself to be at best intellectually limited, and at worse, downright crazy.

While discussing North Carolina’s new voter ID law, Yelton made some absurd and incendiary statements. “The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt. If it hurts a bunch of college kids [that are] too lazy to get up off their bohonkas and go get a photo ID, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of whites, so be it.”

Yelton continued, “If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it,”

What is wrong with this man? Has he no decency? He tipped his hand by telling the world what he really thinks, and indicating what the so-called voter ID laws are really about. These laws are about suppressing likely Democratic votes. They are about racism and racist attitudes. These attitudes don’t belong in these United States of America 150 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Who the heck is Don Yelton, anyway? He’s a local North Carolina precinct chair who initially answered questions about his interview with some belligerence. “I’ve been called a bigot before,” he said before adding that his best friend is Black. Then he goes on to talk about the “n” word, saying that if African Americans can use the word, then so can he.

Of course, Yelton was reprimanded by his party. He ended up resigning over his comments. But no one reprimanded Mitt Romney over his 47 percent comments, and no one has reprimanded the many Republican racists who cling to the past because they are frightened of our multicultural future.

I am waiting for someone to tell me that Yelton is “just one person” and that his views do not represent those of the Republican Party. I’m also waiting for ants to eat snakes. I am certain that Yelton has used these kinds of comments before. Is this the first time he has been reprimanded?

To apply the world “lazy” to students and African Americans is disingenuous, racist, and insulting. Yelton seemed careful, though, not to ignore senior citizens, some of who might be challenged to get new ID. Yelton’s comments are especially revealing of the contempt that some elected officer for their constituents. Now that Republicans control both houses of the North Carolina legislature, some feel free to say what they really think.

This is not a North Carolina problem. Many states want to suppress the vote with new voter ID laws, fewer polling places, and other methods of keeping voters away from the polls. These efforts to “kick Democrats in the butt” by attacking likely Democratic voters ought to mobilize voters to outmaneuver and out vote these people who are so crazy that they call others lazy. The lazy comment is connected to racist stereotypes. Somebody needs to remind Yelton that the plantation and sharecropping systems that North Carolina’s economy rested on for at least a century was staffed by “lazy” people who were constantly being ripped off for their labor.

Shame on Don Yelton for being crazy enough to call hard working students and African Americans lazy. Shame on the Republican Party that he purports to represent. And shame on the state of North Carolina for its attempt to suppress the vote. Shame, too, on the other states around the nation who, like North Carolina, who have made voter suppression a priority.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

A Slave to Slavery Comparison

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(NNPA) The brilliant surgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson is out of order and out of control when he compares the Affordable Care Act to slavery. As a physician, he must know how many people lack health care, and how much work this administration had done to right that wrong. As a health advocate, he must have seen those men and women who decide to forego pain medication in favor of something to eat for their children. As a distinguished medical leader, he must have read the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that talk about the differential ways in which health care is delivered in emergency rooms, with Black and Brown men less likely than others to receive medication for their pain, even when it involves a broken bone.

So when Carson says that the Affordable Care Act is “worse than slavery,” I truly wonder what he knows about slavery. Does he know about being dragged from one country and placed on an auction block in another? Does he know about enduring backbreaking work, day after day, hour after hour, where the most human desires like love and companionship are snuffed out by the needs of greedy masters? Has he had a limb – a leg, an arm, a tongue – severed to make serve as an example for others? Has he felt a shackle on his neck, across his Adam’s apple, so tight that he could not breathe? Has he tried to run, and been captured and beaten? Or beaten even if he did not run? Does his back show the signs of White rage? Has he seen his own child sold at auction? Has he slid besides his woman, his love, knowing that she had no say if the master decided to have sex with her?

Has he been literally emasculated, his body a victim to a master’s rage? Has he learned to read? According to an old North Carolina law, “to teach a slave to read is to excite dissatisfaction in the general population.” Whites who taught slaves to read were fined as much as a year’s wages. Slaves who taught each other to read risked 39 lashes. I don’t know what the amazing Dr. Ben Carson is thinking when he compares anything in our current space to slavery. He has not known a slave’s life, and, blessedly, neither have most of us. But we know that affordable health care is not the same thing as slavery.

I am tired of people making false slave comparison, effectively reducing it to a political volleyball. The minimum wage was called “worse than slavery,” yet slaves were never paid. Health care, however flawed, is worse than slavery, but slaves had no health care, especially after they failed to produce for massa. A hardship here, a problem there, is worse than slavery. Memo to those who lack historical consciousness – no it isn’t!

Slavery means having no control over your destiny. Slavery is about conforming or risking life and limb. Slavery is about the evisceration of families, about the lives and loves shattered for the profit of those who failed to value Black people as equal, as human. Slavery is not about a law you don’t like, not about a wage you don’t like. Anyone who lives and breathes air in these United States today will never know the brutality of a century and a half ago.

I will acknowledge Dr. Ben Carson as an amazing surgeon. That is, after all, is reputation. Somebody put a mike up to his mouth though, so he decided to step off medicine and into politics. If he is into slavery, he needs to go back to his own plantation. You have choices, Dr. Carson, and slaves did not. We may agree or disagree about the Affordable Health Care Act, but we will never agree that the Affordable Care Act is worse than slavery. If you don’t know anything about slavery, pick up a book. In 1831, picking up a book in more than 15 states was illegal. And so was a Black person voting. Only after you feel the lash of slavery, directly or indirectly, can you speak to this. You are generating headlines but not good sense with your misplaced slavery comparisons.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

There Were Alternatives to Bankruptcy in Detroit

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(NNPA) You don’t have to be from Detroit to be angry at what is happening there. And you don’t have to be from Detroit to lend your voice to an injustice that not only affects Detroit, but also the rest of the nation. If you agree with the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition on this matter, please go to change.org, search for Detroit Bankruptcy, and sign the Rainbow/PUSH-sponsored petition.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has pulled a fast one on the citizens of Detroit. When he appointed Emergency Manager Kevin Orr, he fast-tracked the bankruptcy process with just 90 days elapsing between Orr’s appointment and the beginning of bankruptcy proceedings. Had Orr moved in a more deliberate manner, the citizens of Detroit may have had some input in the process.

Instead, the people of Detroit have had neither voice nor vote in a process that circumvents democracy. The 23,000 pensioners who retired from government service, those who use open space and recreational facilities such as Belle Isle (now leased to the state) or the Detroit Museum, those who depend on already-eroding city services, including garbage pickup, public lighting, and other services are allowed no say in the status of their city.

Why is the Emergency Manager rushing bankruptcy? There are alternatives, including restructuring. Raising taxes on water supplied to suburban cities is another way to raise revenue. Instead of moving in this direction the Emergency Manager seems to favor selling valuable assets.

Is this what the state had in mind when they voided a law that required the city’s police and firefighters to live in Detroit? That move eroded the revenue base, and it also left the city less safe because protective service workers are not readily available.

Instead of bankruptcy, an option for Detroit might be federal and state assistance. Five years ago, Chrysler and General Motors said they would fail if they couldn’t get help from the federal government. More than $80 billion was spent to help them and some of their suppliers. Congress and the auto companies justified their request for help by saying that the failure of these large companies would cut employment by at least 1 million workers at a time when the unemployment rate was plummeting.

If Detroit-based companies deserve federal assistance, loans, and grants, why doesn’t the city of Detroit?

In 1975, New York City was about to go bankrupt when federal and state authorities put together a Municipal Assistance Corporation to bring the city back to life. While disaster relief hardly constitutes a bailout, we spent $110 billion in disaster relief in New Orleans. When Superstorm Sandy destroyed homes and businesses in New York and New Jersey last year, Congress spent $51 billion in relief. One might argue that the fiscal state of Detroit is a disaster, a disaster manufactured by political forces pandering to the mostly-White suburbs in favor of a city that is 80 percent Black.

In response to this manufactured disaster, it is not unreasonable for the federal and state governments to provide assistance to rebuild Detroit. Just as the automakers argued that their bankruptcy would eliminate jobs, so might Detroit argue that its bankruptcy will not only disrupt Michigan’s economy, but also the nation’s. The effort to cut pensions, and thus spending, has a negative effect on the overall economy. Restructuring health care obligations to the public sector (Obamacare, Medicare) represents a federal subsidy. While it may be unavoidable that future pensioners face a different set restructuring of benefits and health care, it breaks a covenant when current retirees find the conditions of their retirement packages altered.

From a distance, many will look askance at Detroit; it’s alleged “mismanagement” and a series of scandals that have tarnished the city’s image. Tarnished image or not, pension cuts hurts the most vulnerable. In Detroit, the average pensioner receives just $1,900 a month, and current pension costs represent just 4 percent of total revenues. No one who retired from service to the city of Detroit is eligible for Social Security, so pensions and savings represent the sole source for their support. This isn’t just happening in Detroit. As many as 100 cities are looking to see if Detroit’s possible pension-busting is something they can replicate in their states.

Gov. Snyder will argue that he appointed an Emergency Manager because the city wouldn’t manage itself. He won’t disclose that the state of Michigan owes Detroit money, and that his Emergency Manager, with unlimited power, has spent more than $100 million “studying” the Detroit fiscal situation.

Detroit did not request an Emergency Manager. The governor imposed him on them. Detroit did not file for bankruptcy, the emergency manager did. The state government takeover of Detroit is not just a Detroit issue. If Gov. Snyder gets his way, he will set a precedent for any ailing city to be taken over and to have its voting rights, and fiscal discretion, suspended.

The people of Detroit have not been allowed to weigh in on the future of their city, and those they elected have been placed at the periphery of negotiations. The move toward bankruptcy is both undemocratic and fiscally imprudent. And it is part of a trend that may hit your financially strapped city.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Republicans' Venom Aimed at Obama

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(NNPA) At press time, it was unclear whether Congress would finally evade a government shutdown on October 1. I do know, however, that I am sick of the budgetary brinkmanship that plagues our government. Every few months there is some crisis or another that has the House of Representatives and the White House at loggerheads. This time, Republicans in Congress want to defund Obamacare as part of the budget that must be passed and say they are willing to let government close to meet their goal. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says that Republicans are holding a gun to the American people’s heads and he isn’t lying.

It doesn’t stop on October 1. The back-and-forth exists because Congress has not passed a budget the way it normally does since 2009. Now, government operates through a series of continuing resolutions that make it difficult for federal departments to know how much they have to spend. And if Congress passes an agreement to keep government open, it will only keep it open through November or December 15, depending on which version (House or Senate) of the law passes.

Another upcoming deadline is the October 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling or further imperil our once-solid credit rating. In each instance, Republicans have another opportunity to crow about their fiscal mindedness and argue about Obamacare. But, as Harry Reid has said, Obamacare is the law of the land. It takes effect October 1, government shutdown or not. The Republican House may despise Obamacare and they may change some provisions of it, but they can’t stop it now.

Indeed, Republicans are gearing up for the debt ceiling debate, which is another opportunity for brinksmanship. If they remove the Affordable Care Act from negotiations, it will surely resurface when the debt ceiling is discussed. We can spend the rest of this year, and part of next, with this budgetary brinkmanship, all driven by the fact that many Republicans simply cannot stand the notion of the Affordable Care Act.

Actually, it’s not just about the Affordable Care Act, it is about President Obama and Republican resistance to anything he proposes. Their attitudes go beyond partisanship to venomous distaste. You’d have to go back to the nineteenth century to find members of Congress so rude as to holler out “you lie” as a President spoke, assertions that that thing would happen “over my dead body” are far more common. It has always amused me when people so quickly offer their dead bodies up for discussion, as if they so lightly value their living bodies that they’d offer their dead one in the name of public policy. Just recently, Rand Paul said the federal government would bail out Detroit over his dead body, and years ago Dick Armey (R-TX) said the minimum wage would pass over his. Last I heard the minimum wage rose and Armey is still living, though no longer in Congress.

If the government does shut down, “nonessential” employees will not be paid. The bumbling Congress, however, will continue to be compensated for the little they do. Many Congressional representatives don’t care because they don’t need the money. A large percentage of our “lawmakers” are millionaires. Last time there was a government shutdown, people were paid retroactively. This time, back pay is unlikely. With so many government employees experiencing pay cuts because of furloughs, an additional pay cut is onerous. Congress seems unconcerned with the plight of the average government worker.

The only good news in this mess is that the American people aren’t stupid. Most of them blame gridlock on House Republicans. The last time government shut down in 1995-96 (when two shut downs lasted a combined 26 days), the people responded by giving President Bill Clinton a second term nine months later. Clinton defeated rival Bob Dole in part because of Dole’s leadership in the government shutdown. With 2014 mid-term elections imminent, Republicans should be worried. When President Obama spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner in late September, he asked people to gear up their activism for the 2014 elections. If the House of Representatives looked more like the Senate (or if more Republicans had good sense), perhaps we could avoid this constant budgetary brinkmanship that has plagued us for the past four years.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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